Whatever Brett Brown said in the locker room obviously worked, because his team turned a four-point halftime deficit into a 27-point game one win.
It was a wonderful turnaround for the home squad, who outscored Miami 74 to 43 in the second half. They finished 18-28 from three (64.3%) and 47.4% overall from the floor after fighting themselves and the officials in the first 24 minutes of play. A surfeit of whistles drew the ire of the Wells Fargo Center crowd (ref, you suck) while simultaneously killing the flow of the game and keeping the Sixers from finding their textbook rhythm and offensive flow.
We talked about that in the series previews, the idea that Miami was better built for a slower, half court type of game. I think you saw that in the first half, when the Sixers’ tempo was off, they couldn’t get a ton going in transition, and the spacing and movement just looked a little frenetic on the offensive end. They shot 19 for 49 in the first half, a 38.8% mark.
The second half spark really began with a coaching adjustment, as Brett Brown sent Ersan Ilyasova out to start the third quarter, playing alongside Dario Saric in the Sixers’ smaller look. Ilyasova, who began 3 for 9 on the night, immediately contributed five points and three rebounds within the first two minutes of the half. Philadelphia erupted on a 15-0 run and finally asserted their style of play on Miami.
And that kept Hassan Whiteside on the bench, a guy who was a total non-factor last night, putting up just 2 points and 6 rebounds in 12 minutes of play. With the Sixers playing a lineup featuring four shooters and one non-shooting point guard, Whiteside’s rim protection was deemed essentially useless.
Two quotes that touch on that concept, first from JJ Redick:
“This is sort of how we’ve played since [Joel Embiid] has been out. It creates a lot of problems for the defense because there’s a lot of times where we’re playing Ersan and Dario together at the four and five and the other two wings are shooters and you’ve got Ben going downhill. If it’s an open floor you’ve got to make a choice and it’s pick-and-pop, two-man, catch and shoot. There’s all sorts of problems. The other thing I think, like with Ben attacking downhill, Marco is cutting, Dario is cutting, all of a sudden you start switching out on that stuff. Those guys make those adjustments and we get layups.”
And the opponent’s perspective, from Kelly Olynyk:
“They played really, really fast. A lot of stuff in transition and they just got those shooters coming off staging screens nonstop full speed. It’s tough to guard. When they got four shooters out there with Ben Simmons handling the ball, it’s tough to help and pack the paint and get in the paint. They come out and make tough shots, throwing the ball back, other guys are making shots, Simmons is attacking, they’re getting back cuts, try to guarding off screens. They play really fast and the execute really, really well.”
That was the biggest storyline for me, the fact that Philly was able to go smaller, throw four shooters out there, and not see any defensive drop-off at all.
And even in cases when Amir Johnson was in the game, he was effective on the glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds and doing some scrapping underneath with Whiteside, Olynyk, and Bam Adebayo. We’ll see if Erik Spoelstra can scheme something up with Whiteside for game two, but he didn’t divulge much when asked about his center’s game one performance:
“It’s not about him. This series and this game are going to move quickly. There are a lot of substitutions both ways and there is not a lot of time based on the flow and the matchups. It’s not necessarily an indictment to his first four minutes but we all have to collectively be better on Monday.”
Brett Brown had a bit more to say, and this transcription might be a bit loose because two national media guys sitting behind me wouldn’t shut their mouths during the press conference:
“We had a gut feel for different things, and some of it was generated with the mismatch desire with Ersan and Whiteside. Some of it was generated because we felt like we wanted (in the 2nd half) to pair Amir up with Olynyk , who had a big first half. We made the decision and we were lucky that it helped us, it seems right as we look back on it. Certainly it changed the game for us.”
That was the storyline of the game for me, Brown’s decision to go smaller and really throw a ton of shooters on the floor. That got the offensive cooking, but it was the second half defense that was probably most impressive.
You got me locked in
If you’ve ever seen the movie “This is Spinal Tap,” there’s a scene where the guitar player, Nigel Tufnel, is showing some dude how his amplifier works. Most amplifiers go up to 10, but his amp goes to 11, for when you need that little extra push.
That’s how I felt about the Sixers’ second half defensive effort last night. They didn’t turn it up to 10, they turned it up to 11, holding Miami to just 9 points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter alone.
Robert Covington, specifically, was all over the place in the third. You can pull any number of plays from that period, but I’ll go with this one:
Covington starts on Goran Dragic here, Miami runs a sloppy “horns” set, and Roco slides over to James Johnson instead. Johnson tries to drive, Covington slides with him, keeps his feet, and gets a traveling call.
Doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but that’s what Covington does; he begins on a 6’3″ point guard, seamlessly slides over to a 6’9″ forward, and defends in space without much issue.
Brown had a lot to say about Covington after the game:
“I thought he was unbelievable. He was a man, physically sliding his feet, blocking shots, hands on balls. He’s deceptively strong. He’s so versatile as a defensive player. We can sit down and guard Dragic or maybe get caught on Olynyk and he can guard that, too. He’s such a wonderful story for us, because he is a poster child in regards to development, just trying to find somebody, develop him, and give him a chance. He went through those rough years and only Joel has been with me longer.”
Covington said they watched a bit of the film during halftime and looked at the way Miami was moving the ball and getting three point looks. He explained that the Sixers were simply more “locked in” and “maniacal” in the second half. Ben Simmons, too, used the phrase “locked in” at least five times in his post game press conference, which also happens to be the name of a great Judas Priest song.
Redick elaborated on the second half defensive effort:
“I think tactically there’s really never been big adjustments at halftime. If I had to put my finger on one thing, it would just probably be our will defensively. It just seems like we kind of turn it up a notch and sometimes it’s something we talk about. Me or [Robert Covington] will kind of just say ‘Hey, we need a 20-point quarter here.’ Or ‘we need a 40 or 42-point half.’ Tonight, it wasn’t that. Something just clicked for us defensively. I think they had 43 in the second half. It was one of those low scoring halves for them. For us, it was really that stretch to start the third. We were getting stops and we were making shots. We tied it and all of a sudden we looked up and we were up 11. I think that’s been really the key for us every time we’ve done that in the second half. We’re getting multiple stops in a row defensively.”
Adjustments or not, they simply ratcheted the defense up a notch, from 10 to 11.
I wrote this down during the game, one play that the Sixers just executed to perfection in two different ways from two separate sequences in the second half last night.
I have no idea what this play is called, but it’s a combination flex with an opposite court down screen, which basically gives you the option of hitting two different guys for open threes.
Ilyasova drained the first one:
Really pretty stuff.
And I actually might be wrong, because I see three options here in a three-shooter lineup. Covington could take a shot here if he finds himself open, but you’ve got Marco Belinelli flexing across the baseline and Ben Simmons setting a screen to free up Ilyasova, who set the first screen for Belinelli:
Here’s the second version of the same play, this time a super small look featuring Markelle Fultz, Redick, Belinelli, Covington as a four, and Ilyasova as a stretch five:
Same exact thing.
Dribble hand-off between the 5 and 3. Shooting guard flexes off baseline screen, non-shooting point guard down screens for the stretch four to pop out.
Except this time, instead of hitting the power forward, they hit Redick coming off the curl:
Just great stuff all around – well designed and well executed. That’s a lineup where your 2, 3, 4, and 5-man can all shoot the three pointer, which is pretty ridiculous if you think about it.
- Furkan Korkmaz got into the game late and scored more points than Whiteside.
- T.J. McConnell came off the bench before Markelle Fultz but was quickly subbed back out after his first two appearances on the floor. He played 6:57 last night.
- I didn’t think Fultz looked out of place at all. He was a +12 off the bench in 14 minutes and went for 5, 2, and 4 on 1-4 shooting. Nothing amazing there, but he did hit 3 of 4 free throws. He just has to come in and run point and set up the shooters around him. Keep it simple.
- Dario Saric finished with a healthy 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting. He had some scrappy-ass hustle plays in the third quarter that really kept the energy flowing.
- 34 assists for the Sixers – that’s a huge number for a playoff game
- Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic, both 45% shooters, didn’t have great nights. Richardson went 1-7 and Dragic was 4-14 and just 1-10 on two-point attempts.
That’s about it. The only other thing I’ll say is that I think the arena music sounds really corny during the playoffs, since the crowd is rocking and the atmosphere sizzles in an organic way. I’d love for the Sixers to turn off the music and just let the fans do their thing.
Here’s me complaining about that: